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Dublin: 2°C Sunday 17 January 2021

Irish shift workers struggle with poor diets, a lack of sleep and higher smoking rates

Safefood conducted the research which also found many workers skip meals and don’t get enough sleep.

Image: Shutterstock/Photographee.eu

OVER 67% OF people doing shift work have reported skipping meals while almost 8 in 10 said they weren’t getting enough sleep, a new report has found.

The study by cross-border agency safefood also discovered that nearly one-in-three workers said they smoked, a much higher percentage to the general population.

Shift work, as defined by the international sleep foundation, is work that takes place on a schedule outside the traditional 9am to 5 pm day. It can involve evening or night shifts, early morning shifts, and rotating shifts.

Some key points of the study included:

  • Men have poorer dietary habits than women
  • Younger shift workers more likely to be overweight and drink more
  • Older workers reported poorer sleep patterns and lower levels of physical activity
  • Lack of breaks, shift patterns and tiredness some of the main concerns

Ray Dolan, CEO of safefood said “It has been long assumed that shift work has a negative impact on people’s health and increases the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.


“With the publication of this research, we’re beginning to address an important gap in our knowledge of both the barriers and potential public health interventions to improving the food and related lifestyle habits of people working shifts.”

Research lead Dr Clare Corish said: “For this research we looked at existing studies in this area as well as surveying² more than 1,000 people to better understand the factors that influence their food and related lifestyle habits while working shift hours.

“What’s noticeable from the research is how skipping meals, inadequate physical activity and insufficient sleep are commonly noted by shift workers as behaviours that impact upon them.”

shutterstock_466998551 (1) Shift workers found to have unhealthier lifestyles than traditional workers. Source: Shutterstock/Photographee.eu

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, added that the findings highlight that a number of targeted approaches are required to address the range of issues raised by shift workers.

She said: “It’s clear that we need to support younger and newer shift workers in order to enable them to adapt to shift hours. This will help create healthier habits they will hopefully take with them through their career.

“Smoking and a smoking culture at work are related to poor dietary habits and this research backs the need for workplace initiatives to help with smoking cessation. The role of employers in these issues can’t be underestimated. Shift workers deserve improved eating facilities, whether that’s canteens, work kitchens or healthier vending machines, and reasonable time to take breaks.”

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